THE PROMISE OF PEACE PROJECT
Sandra McCollum April 2017
The Promise of Peace collaboration between four Chicago South-Side Arts Organizations was a prolific visual arts project. The partners in this initiative, The Beverly Arts Center of Chicago, The Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, The South Side Community Art Center and Diasporal Rhythms eagerly embraced the opportunity to work with young people in the Chicago Community who could give a voice to the causes and solutions of violence through the arts. Conceived and coordinated by Diasporal Rhythms, a Chicago organization of art lovers and collectors, it emerged as a strong artistic response to the concept of peace. Thought provoking and deeply moving images with themes of the earth, transformation, identity, peace, heritage and the indomitable spirit of man were evident in the work of the students and the teaching artists.
This intergenerational display of artistic expression underscores the importance of resolving differences in a manner which grants fairness and justice to all opposing ideologies. An African proverb states, “The ruin of a people begins in its homes.” Could it be that healing begins in the homes as well? It is important to begin having intergenerational conversations to find solutions to differences which intensify into conflicts leading to violent conclusions.
Gun violence has escalated, astounding the community with incomprehensible statistics. In 2016 over 700 shootings took the lives of children and other innocent victims in Chicago. Within the last decade, the City of Chicago has paid ½ billion dollars to settle lawsuits against policemen charged with unjustifiable shootings of minorities, misconduct and brutality. An additional 84.6 million was paid in fees. The absence of Peace is disconcerting.
Through the eyes of the artists involved in the Promise of Peace Project, we clearly see ideas for the remedy. An interesting display of colorful shoes belonging to multiple ethnicities was painted by Vicki Tesmer at the Beverly Arts Center. Her message is obvious. What do we see when we look at the feet, likenesses or differences? A teaching artist, Al Hawkins, created a beautiful expression of his concept of peace. Influenced by the words and music of Bob Dylan, his imagination flowed into the creation of a beautiful Black woman clothed in a copious white three dimensional drape, entitled, “Shelter from the Storm.” One concludes that Peace can mean comfort and love.
Damon Lamar Reed, a teaching artist at The Beverly Art Center, boldly displayed his majestic wall hanging, “I’ve Got Rights.” A Black man holding an American flag demonstrates the disrespect and injustices perpetrated against Minorities. It generates in us an awareness of anger and disenfranchisement, other causes of potential violence. This massive quilt is laden with symbolism. Gold stars border the corners. The man is dressed in the standard white tee shirt and dark pants of the ubiquitous black man, seen as the victim and the perpetrator.
The Logan Center Project participants embarked upon this project by examining the motivation and actions of numerous peacemakers and defenders of human rights. Self-examination as it relates to the perception of peace was also a fulcrum of inspiration. Young artists at the Logan Center created Rain Sticks which had personal meanings for them. Their immersion into the project was evident in the symbolic imagery. The ancient origins of the rain sticks and the innovative discussions of the group elicited poetic spoken words and musical renditions from the participants. The final art projects, functional musical/ meditation Rain Sticks are worthy of many moments of self-reflection.
At The Southside Community Art Center (SSCAC) we see the works of an extremely perceptive young woman who appears to be wise beyond her years. Dionne Victoria painted the face of a young black girl entitled “This Little Light.” This photo-realism rendition of this lovely child gives one pause to see the look of light, hope, joy, and expectancy in the eyes of a symbolic youth who could potentially lose this promise to violence. The light and innocence seen in the subject of this painting are universal expressions of all life should offer to our children.
The quotation, “All art is autobiographical,” was exemplified at the SSCAC within the authenticity of eleven year old Brooklyn Starks’ artwork. Her story is embedded in her creation entitled, “Negative Thoughts.” The sixth grader has experienced bullying since her early elementary school days. The Promise of Peace project at the SSCAC provided a comforting and safe haven for Brooklyn to reveal her story and to heal the wounds her psyche suffered during the years of bullying. “…The pearl is the oyster’s autobiography.” Brooklyn’s autobiography, expressed through art, has opened her to a different and positive perspective of herself.
Also at The Southside Community Art Center, Ruby Simmons displays vibrant color and a mixture of common elements found in the Earth to give meaning to the lone female in her creation, “She Walks.” Ruby’s artistic rendition is part of a series representative of the five stages of grief. We can only imagine that the prominent figure walks alone in strength, and to impart strength to her fellow man as she seeks inner peace.
The Promise of Peace embraced a variety of ways in which peace can be achieved. The lack of violence is peace. Walking away from a potentially violent conflict could be the first step toward peace. Seeking inner peace and treating our fellow man justly are other avenues toward achieving peace. Confronting injustices through conversation and art is a pathway to establishing the desired harmony we seek in our society. The young people participating in this project have provided us all with inspiration and hope.
THE PROMISE OF PEACE PROJECT